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Omicron: NASS fumes at UK travel ban, calls for removal of Nigeria from red list

*Asks British Parliament to prevail on UK Govt to rescind decision

*Travel restrictions could heighten vaccine hesitancy, says NGF

Tunde Opalana, Haruna Salami & Tom Okpe, Abuja

The National Assembly, on Tuesday, kicked against the decision by the British government to place travel ban on Nigeria following the advent of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the country last weekend.

Recall that the United Kingdom on Monday joined Canada to restrict travellers from Nigeria and other African countries because of the Omicron variant.

Other African nations slammed with travel ban are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.

British Deputy High Commission to Nigeria, Catriona Liang, had a few days ago explained that the UK took the decision to protect her citizens.

She said “the decision is a precautionary measure to protect public health in the UK, whilst we try to understand this new variant”.

According to her, the ban may be lifted sooner than expected after the three week review point on December 20.

However, the Senate and the House of Representatives on Tuesday urged the United Kingdom to immediately remove the travel restrictions slammed on Nigeria.

The Senate in its resolution urged the Federal Government to apply diplomacy in engaging the UK government with a view to removing Nigeria from the COVID-19 red list while urging the UK government to be sensitive to the diplomatic relationship between both countries when taking decisions that affect Nigerian citizens.

It also called on the British Parliament to prevail on the UK government to rescind her decision on inclusion of Nigeria on the list.

The Senate further called on major vaccine powers, namely, Britain, Canada, America, and the European Union, among others, to take urgent and bold steps to ensure vaccine equity in the interest of the entire human race.

These were resolutions reached by the chamber following the consideration of a motion on the “Need for Government of the United Kingdom to remove Nigeria from COVID-19 Red List.”

The motion was sponsored by Senator Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu West).

Coming under order 42 and 52 of the Senate Rules, Ekweremadu noted with satisfaction the efforts of the Government of Nigeria in the containment and treatment of COVID-19 cases.

In his lead debate, Ekweremadu expressed worries that targeting African countries for COVID-19 travel ban amounts to profiling and discrimination as well as an attack on Nigeria’s long time diplomatic relations with the UK.

“We are aware of the global concern over vaccines burden and the resultant consequences on low income nations in the fight against COVID-19”, he said.

He noted that “Nigeria is the only country with the lowest of COVID-19 cases and placing Nigeria on COVID-19 red list with its concomitant implication, will affect many Nigerians who plan to travel for Christmas and New Year holidays with their families.

“It means Nigerians who planned to visit the UK will be denied Visa and those with Visa will not be allowed to enter the UK. We note that Nigeria has been consistently complied with COVID-19 protocols”.

In his remarks, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said that the decision to include Nigeria on the UK COVID-19 red list poses a strain on the diplomatic relationship between both countries.

He bemoaned the poor treatment of Nigeria by the UK government.

Lawan, therefore, called on the British Parliament to intervene with a view to having Nigeria removed from the country’s COVID-19 red list.

“Let there be justification for it. We are not saying that they cannot put any country on the red list, including Nigeria, but there must be reasons for doing that.

“[And] of course, Nigeria has done so well to the admiration of many countries in the area of containment of COVID-19.

“Therefore, we don’t see any reason why Nigeria will be on that so-called red list.

“I believe that Nigerians deserve better treatment from the British government.

“I’m using this opportunity to ask the British Parliament to mount pressure on their government to remove Nigeria from the so called red list,” the Senate president said.

Also, the House of Representatives has frowned at the recent travel ban on Nigerian citizens to the UK on account of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, saying there is need to intervene in the suspension of visa issuance to Nigerians’ by the government of the United Kingdom.

In a motion by Ndudi Elumelu, Minority Leader in the Green Chamber at plenary on Tuesday, he noted an announcement made by the United Kingdom Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, on Saturday that a temporary ban was placed on Foreign travelers from Nigeria to the UK with effect from Monday, 6th of December 2021 as a result of concerns over the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The Minority Leader further noted that the decision covers travel to the UK for tourism, visiting friends and family, undertaking short-term business activities, studies, exchange programmes and medical reasons.

The House, Elumelu noted, is aware that this is coming only a few days after Canada extended its travel ban to travelers who recently visited Nigeria.

“Though the ban is for Nigerians bound for the UK, it does not exempt over 8,000 Nigerian travelers that have bought air tickets to visit Nigeria during this festive period, as the restriction would affect their re-entry into the UK after holidays.”

The Lawmaker expressed worry that rather than seek to work with its commonwealth ally on ways to combat and curtail the spread of this new variant, the UK government decided to out rightly ban Nigerian travelers from entering their country which is a sharp contrast to that of the United States government whose response is for travelers to produce evidence of negative test result at the point of departure and a day, or two test result after arrival in their country, a response that have received wide commendation across board.

The House, he said, is also concerned that the Omicron variant has now been found in over 40 countries around the world including many European Union countries but only Nigeria and a few African countries have been banned by the UK government.

“Further concerned that this decision, if left unchallenged, will stop thousands of Nigerians that normally come back home at this time of the year to boost the social and economic activities of the country from coming into the country, thereby causing the nation serious revenue loss.

Disturbed that if the Nigerian Government does not urgently engage the authorities of the United Kingdom, this decision would have a significant impact on businesses and travelers intending to carry out lawful transactions in the UK as opportunities and investments, already made, would be lost, hence the need for a quick interface.

“Further disturbed that children who school abroad and had thought of returning home during this festive period to rejoin their families and with fears that when they later go back will be subjected to 10 days mandatory isolation centre and be made to pay £2,700 for such hotel bookings may be totally discouraged from coming home, thereby deny such families the opportunity of their children rejoining them for this annual family union,”Elumelu said.

The House, however, mandated its committees on Health and Foreign Affairs to interface with the ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on best ways to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) says the travel restrictions placed on Nigerian travellers by a number of foreign countries could worsen vaccine hesitancy, describing the action as “arbitrary stigmatisation”.

The governors asked the World Health Organisation (WHO) to intervene by “setting uniform standards that are acceptable to all” countries.

In a statement issued on Tuesday by NGF chairman and governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the governors said the travel restrictions were implemented without careful consideration.

The governors said some countries with higher cases of the new variant were not banned.

The statement reads: “Canada and the United Kingdom have hastily included Nigeria among the Omicron present countries which must stay away from their shores, an action viewed by the NGF as precipitate, unfair and discriminatory.

“Omicron still remains relatively unknown globally as it is not yet clear whether it is more transmissible from person to person compared to other variants including Delta.

“It is very discouraging to note that there are several countries that have reported cases of Omicron similar to or higher than Nigeria’s, that have not been banned from entry to the UK and/Canada.

“Confirmed Omicron cases as at December 3rd, across some countries are: Nigeria (3 ); Australia (7); Brazil (3); Germany (9) Israel(4); Italy (9) & Netherlands(16). There is also no evidence that harsh, blanket travel bans will protect the countries that impose them.

“It is ironical that this ban comes at a time when the DG of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, has advised that “rational proportional risk reduction measures” be taken by countries such as screening passengers prior to departure and/or upon arrival in a country, or enforcing a quarantine period.

“The NGF therefore urges the WHO to intervene in this matter by setting uniform standards that are acceptable to all for banning countries across the globe.

“As we know, vaccine hesitancy is quite high and for many reasons including disruptive announcements like this which could exacerbate distrust of the vaccine and heighten hesitancy.

“World leaders and stakeholders in the West need to remember that with the COVID-19 pandemic, until everyone is free, no one is free. Variants will continue to appear and spread across the globe as long as global herd immunity has not been achieved.”

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